[UPDATE 10/24/12: Virginia's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will now be investigating after all, following a unanimous vote today of the State Board of Elections to refer the matter for a statewide criminal probe. Our concerns about Cuccinelli's conflicts of interest, as partially detailed below, still stand.]
[This article cross-posted by Salon...]
Broader investigations are being sought, on a number of fronts, into the nationwide GOP Voter Registration Fraud Scandal including, finally, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Over the weekend, a Democratic state legislator in Virginia asked the state's Republican Attorney General to open a statewide probe, though AG Ken Cuccinelli has said he has no plans to carry one out. Given the photographs recently posted of Cuccinelli on Twitter (see below), that's probably a good thing.
On Monday, however, a number of Democratic U.S. Congress members from Virginia sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder seeking a nationwide investigation. Also, the three ranking Democrats of the U.S. House Judiciary, Elections and Oversight committees are pressing Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus for answers as to why his party hired a shady GOP operative with a long history of voter registration fraud allegations against him, and whether the RNC intends to truly cut ties with him, and his many companies working for Republicans across the country.
All of this comes on the heels of the GOP Voter Registration Scandal widening to Virginia last week, when 23-year old Colin Small was arrested and charged with 8 felonies and 5 misdemeanors after being seen allegedly dumping voter registration forms into a dumpster near a shopping mall in Harrisonburg.
Small, a Pennsylvania resident who claimed on his LinkedIn profile to be a "Grassroots Field Director" for the Republican National Committee, had been hired to do voter registration work by Strategic Allied Consulting, a company formed this summer at the request of the RNC and headed by Nathan Sproul, a shady GOP operative and paid political consultant for Mitt Romney's campaign.
The firm was supposedly fired by the RNC late last month after hundreds of apparently fraudulent registration forms collected by the company on behalf of the Republican Party of Florida were discovered by election officials in some twelve counties in the Sunshine State. The RNC had reportedly paid Sproul's firm at least $3 million since August to carry out voter registration efforts in five battleground states, including VA, despite many years of allegations that his companies had destroyed Democratic registration forms in a number of states.
The arrest of Small revealed that the supposed firing was a deception, as Sproul's employees and Republican voter registration machine were kept in place, but run by local GOP officials and paid by PinPoint Staffing, one of the employment agencies Sproul tells The BRAD BLOG he had used in a number of states...
Virginia investigation (or lack thereof)
Over the weekend, despite the arrest of Small, Virginia's Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said his office has no plans at this time to investigate the GOP Voter Registration Fraud Scandal.
On Monday, in response to Democratic state Senator Donald McEachin's request for a statewide investigation, Cuccinnelli explained [PDF], that his "hand are tied."
"An investigation into this matter is absolutely warranted, and the local authorities are currently conducting one," Cuccinelli wrote to McEachin. However, he added, "my office does not have the state authority to investigate election matters unless explicitly requested to do so by the State Board of Elections, a local commonwealth's attorney, or a local electoral board member."
"No such request has been made to date," he added, "and therefore, by law, I do not have the authority to undertake the investigation you have suggested."
In any case, based on Cuccinelli's apparent conflict of interest with the state Republican Party, as demonstrated by the photos posted below, it's probably just as well that his office is not the one to carry out such an investigation.
In the days just prior to Small's arrest last week, the state Attorney General was seen, according to photos posted to his Twitter feed and that of the Harrisonburg, VA Republican Party, making a visit to rally workers at the local GOP "Victory office".
Small is seen in the photos at the Harrisonburg office along with Cuccinelli.
"Our team of door knockers are about to hit the streets for @vavictory!!", the twitter account for the Harrisonburg GOP HQ trumpeted in early October, after Sproul's firm had supposedly been fired. The tweet included the following photo, with Small is seen in the light blue shirt at far left:
Minutes earlier, the same account had tweeted: "@kencuccinelli is here thanking volunteers for all they do!! @va_gop".
And then Cuccinelli's account tweeted just after that: "Packed house at the Harrisonburg Victory office persuading voters to elect #RomneyRyan2012." The following photo was attached to Cuccinelli's tweet, with the AG seen in the middle of the photo and Small seen again in his light blue shirt at left:
While Cuccinelli's office, given the obvious conflict of interest, would not be an appropriate body to investigate the matter, the question still remains as to why --- since both the Republican AG and a Democratic state Senator each agree that an investigation is warranted --- the State Board of Elections has yet to request such an investigation from state officials.
We've inquired with the SBE and will update this article with their response when we receive one. But, over the weekend, Virginia Registrar Brandi Lilly was quoted by Richmond's CBS 6 claiming that "There’s no way to tell by party when people fill out these forms, what party they’re affiliated with, so I don’t think there’s any political motivation."
Lilly is likely wrong. As we detailed in an investigative report some weeks ago, which included video taped and other evidence, Sproul had trained his workers to deceive prospective registrants by acting as if they were pollsters, rather than registration workers, until they could determine their political leanings.
Sproul himself confirmed to The BRAD BLOG that he trained his workers to use that tactic, and confirmed as much once again in remarks he made to the Arizona Republic last week:
If the person supports Obama, the worker moves on without offering to register the individual to vote, Sproul said.
As we detailed, that same invidious tactic was seen being carried out by Sproul's workers in a number of states including Colorado, Nevada, Florida and even in Virginia, where a late September report by CBS 6 cited Chesterfield County, VA General Registrar Larry Haake explaining that he had received complaints of Strategic employees doing the very same thing in a local library.
"They were responsible for people that appeared in some libraries in Chesterfield County, supposedly to conduct voter registration drives," Haake said, "but they were asking voters for whom they are going to vote."
Haake says he informed the GOP of the incident at the time, but, apparently, no action was taken.
As Small was likely to have been continuing the training he received from Strategic, there is every reason to believe that he knew if the registrants were likely voters for Romney or Obama.
Federal investigation sought
In the meantime, U.S. Congressmen James Moran, Gerry Connolly and Robert Scott, all from Virginia, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, urging the Department of Justice to "conduct a multi-state investigation to determine if a pattern of voting registration irregularities related to Strategic Allied Consulting are connected and constitute a broader conspiracy of voter registration fraud."
The Democratic members write that "The number of allegations in a multitude of locations would seem to suggest something more than the isolated acts of 'a few bad apples.'"
Citing the continuing operations of PinPoint, for whom Small was allegedly working at the time of his arrest, the Representatives note their concern "that the alleged illegal practices" of Strategic Allied Consulting "may be continuing under its subsidiary Pinpoint."
They conclude their letter to Holder: "We respectfully request the Justice Department to assume the responsibility and conduct its own investigation, given the mounting evidence that one company may have been engaged in a similar multi-state effort to commit voter registration fraud. We believe the circumstances warrant a broader federal review."
Earlier this month, despite claims that the RNC had cut ties with Sproul, The BRAD BLOG detailed evidence that his companies were still operating on behalf of Republicans and Rightwing causes in at least 10 states. The following day, the Los Angeles Times quoted Sproul's crisis spokesman David Leibowitz claiming his client's firms were still "hiring workers for a voter canvassing operation this fall in as many as 30 states".
Liebowitz walked back that assertion days later, telling us: "What we said on the record to various media outlets is that his companies are working in 'as many as 30 states.' That could mean 1 state. Or 2. Or 30. You get the idea, I'm sure." The idea, we're sure, is that Sproul intends to continue his multi-million dollar operations for Republicans in the dark, for as long as he can continue to get away with it.
On Friday, Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Elections released a statement following the arrest of Small, calling for "full disclosure" from the RNC in light of their previous claims that they had cut ties with Sproul's operation due to a supposed "zero tolerance" policy for election fraud.
Citing the RNC's continuing relationship with PinPoint and the employees hired and trained by Sproul and Strategic Allied Consulting --- a company that Sproul says he was asked by the RNC to secretly create without his name on it, due to the reputation that his other companies have garnered for similar misdeeds over the years --- Gonzalez called the matters "deeply troubling."
"Less than three weeks before Election Day, individuals connected to a major political party stand accused of malicious and felonious interference with the electoral process," he wrote. "We know of hundreds of suspicious registration forms. We know of attempts to destroy legitimate registration forms. We do not know how many other misdeeds remain to be discovered. We have moved beyond just making polite inquiries."
"The Republican National Committee needs to act and to do so promptly. By choosing to affiliate with a man with Nathan Sproul’s reputation, the RNC has forfeit any benefit of the doubt in such matters. Only complete disclosure can adequately address this situation. Give the American people the facts so that they can make up their own minds. Give prosecutors and police the facts so they can properly investigate these allegations and bring all appropriate charges. And give election officials the facts so that they can take the steps necessary to ensure that no American citizen is denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote."
Following on a letter sent to RNC Chair Reince Priebus last month by Gonzalez, Rep. John Conyers, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asking a number of questions about the RNC's decision to hire Sproul, the members sent a follow up letter [PDF] after Small's arrest on Friday.
The new letter asks the RNC Chairman if the Republican Party "will now cut all ties to PinPoint and all of Mr. Sproul's various operations?"
It also includes a reminder to Priebus that they expect answers to their previous letter.
"The American people have a right to know whether the RNC intentionally hired, or knew its contractors and subsidiaries had hired, companies and contractors with shady records of past voter registration fraud and then directed them to conceal those records despite public claims of 'zero tolerance'," the Congressmen write.
"Too many men and women have given their lives fighting for the right to vote, from the battlefields of Lexington and Concord to the streets of Jackson, Mississippi, for this nation to countenance actions that threaten the integrity of our elections or the right of eligible American citizens to participate in them."
"We firmly expect responses to our questions," they add in conclusion.
The initial letter to Priebus had requested answers by October 16th. Those answers, House staffers have told The BRAD BLOG, have yet to be delivered by the RNC Chairman.
CORRECTION: In the photo above, taken at the Harrisonburg, VA GOP "Victory office", we had initially highlighted the wrong man as Ken Cuccinelli. He is, in fact, the one in the blue blazer. We have modified the highlighting on that photo now to correct the initial error, which we regret.